NDAA a magnet for far-reaching amendments

Unrelated legislation almost always hitches a ride on the annual bill

An amendment from Rep. Mike Quigley would authorize the hiring and international deployment of 50 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement attachés to disrupt illegal wildlife trafficking abroad. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
An amendment from Rep. Mike Quigley would authorize the hiring and international deployment of 50 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement attachés to disrupt illegal wildlife trafficking abroad. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted July 18, 2022 at 5:34pm

Corrected July 19 | The House last week passed the annual Pentagon policy bill, an $840.2 billion piece of legislation that would authorize national security programs ranging from nuclear missile modernization to military pay raises. 

The bill contains thousands of provisions, dozens of funding tables and attracts hundreds of amendments. And almost always, partially because of its size and partially because it is so likely to be enacted, unrelated legislation hitches a ride on it. 

This year is no exception. 

Provisions on crack cocaine, rabies, free tampons and the Grand Canyon are among dozens of amendments, seemingly unrelated to the Defense Department, that were adopted on the floor before the chamber passed its fiscal 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. 

A provision on eliminating the federal sentencing disparity between drug offenses involving crack cocaine and powder cocaine, introduced by New Jersey Democrat Mikie Sherrill was adopted as part of an en bloc package of noncontroversial amendments. The provision would allow judges to eliminate such discrepancies in past convictions.

For decades, criminal sentences for the possession of crack cocaine, which is generally cheaper to purchase, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, have been far more strict than those for the powder form of the drug. 

Although Congress passed a law in 2010 that reduced statutory penalties for crack cocaine offenses to produce an 18-to-1 crack-to-powder ratio for length of sentences — down from 100-to-1 from 1986 to 2010 — critics have said the only fair sentencing ratio is 1:1. 

Another amendment that seems to veer away from Pentagon policy was offered by New York Democrat Grace Meng would require that all public buildings, including those that house federal agencies and the U.S. Capitol, offer menstrual products in all restrooms, free of charge. 

Parks and recreation

Other stray amendments deal with the great outdoors. 

The House adopted an amendment from Pennsylvania Democrat Dwight Evans that would reauthorize the Delaware River Basin Restoration Program; an amendment from Colorado Democrat Joe Neguse that adds the text of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act and the Grand Canyon Protection Act; and an offering from Colorado Democrat Diana DeGette that adds portions of the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act to the bill.

An amendment from Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley would authorize the hiring and international deployment of 50 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement attachés to disrupt illegal wildlife trafficking abroad, and make it official U.S. policy to help prevent the spread of zoonotic diseases, which can move between humans and animals.

Minnesota Democrat Dean Phillips succeeded in adding two amendments to the bill: one that would create an overseas rabies vaccine program for the pets of U.S. government employees working abroad, and another that would modify a law requiring federal funds used for travel to be spent on U.S.-based airlines to exempt government employees overseas trying to fly their pets home.

Another unusual provision was offered by New Jersey Democrat Donald M. Payne Jr. It would add the text of the Payment Choice Act to the NDAA, which would codify the right to use cash at all retail establishments for transactions under $2,000.

But just being attached to the final House version of the bill doesn’t guarantee that these amendments will become law. After the Senate passes its NDAA, a conference committee will meet behind closed doors to reconcile the two bills, and many of these provisions may simply disappear.

This report has been corrected to reflect the author of the crack cocaine sentencing amendment.